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10 Tips for Earth Day

For April, I often write here about the architectural and design factors related to the environment, which architects take into consideration during the design and construction of a home. At my office, we always encourage our clients to keep environmental issues at the top of their priority list, and typically we’ll aim to design to minimise the home’s impact on the site and to ensure that it is efficient and durable. Most clients are more than happy to take this approach; if we can spend time thinking about these issues during the design stages, we can ensure that the house sits well on the site, reduce the possibility of nasty surprises occurring during construction, and create a sustainable home that is comfortable and enjoyable to live in.

The design process should help to focus on the various integral, built-in elements of the house: the actual fabric of the structure. Insulation in the roof, solar panels for heating water and photovoltaic panels for generating power, optimum orientation and positioning on the site, creative window and door design for good natural ventilation and light, tough materials to maximise durability, and the specification of appropriate plumbing fixtures to minimise the use of water. These are all things that the architect can (and should) incorporate into the design.

But hopefully the owner’s commitment to the environment will not stop there. It pays, in many ways, to think about our everyday lifestyles—to do what we can to reduce our daily impact on the earth. So, in recognition of Earth Day this month, here are 10 things beyond the design and construction of a home that an owner in the BVI can aim to do, to help to reduce their negative impact on the earth and to work towards having a positive impact on the environment of the islands.

1. Use compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs

Phase out inefficient tungsten bulbs, and replace them with long-lasting alternatives. The up-front cost may be higher, but energy savings should be significant. And the quality, convenience and attractiveness of LED fittings is getting more and more impressive.

2. Choose energy-efficient appliances

Again, the up-front cost may be higher, but a high quality, energy-efficient fridge, dishwasher and laundry machine can, over time, save hundreds of dollars in power costs.

3. Use smart strip / surge protection, to reduce power consumption and protect electronics

New technology in power strips can automatically shut down power to devices which are not in use, saving on electrical bills whilst providing essential protection from damaging power spikes.

4.Plant shade trees and local flora

Plan your landscaping for the long term; plant trees to shade the house, to help to keep it naturally cool, and choose indigenous plants, which don’t require much irrigation.

5. Dry laundry naturally

With all the sun and breeze at our disposal, it should be possible to find an outside area to hang laundry. Electric dryers are expensive, energy-hungry, and they’re not great for your clothes.

6. Check for plumbing leaks


Keep an eye on all your plumbing fixtures, to look out for small leaks that might occur over time; particularly in toilets, where an undetected leak can slowly but surely waste hundreds of gallons of precious water.

7. Put a brick or rock in toilet tanks

Even with low flow or dual-flush toilets, it might be worthwhile trying this simple method of reducing water use even further.

8. Switch to non-chemical cleaning materials / products

Vinegar and baking soda can be used around the home for all kinds of cleaning applications. Try a simple internet search to find out more about the huge number of ways to reduce your use of harmful chemicals.

9. Sort garbage, remove organic waste

Municipal recycling may not yet be in effect in the BVI, but you can still organise your waste and help to reduce the pressure on the government incinerator. If you can find a way to dispose of organic waste in the garden, downwind of the house, your trips to the dumpster can be less frequent and much more pleasant.

10. Start composting

Take the natural disposal of organic waste one step further by setting up a proper composting operation. This will also help to get rid of old paper and cardboard, and can naturally fertilise that other project, the vegetable garden.

These are just a small sample of things we can all do, to start to reduce our environmental footprint. They’re all fairly small-scale, but as with all these things, if we all do them, the beneficial effect is multiplied and should be significant.  And again, as is often the case with environmentally-friendly initiatives, you should see some benefit in your bank account!

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